(The following is a transcript of Scott Vaudrey’s message on family of origin. The video will also be available to you soon.)
Well, good morning. It’s great to be back. Thanks for inviting me back. This morning, we’re gonna do another round out of our Relate series. And we’re gonna talk about origins. Or we’re gonna talk about family of origin, or stewarding your story. And you might think to yourself, now, wait a minute. What does family and story have to do with relationships? And I would say to you, just, the short answer is: Everything.
Because here’s what’s true. Everyone in this room possesses a unique beauty, a unique characteristic or pattern of relating that makes you more successful in relationships, more pleasant to be with. And if we had the time, and we sat and heard your story, you told the story from when you were very little to today, we would all be able to discern that episode, that environment, that exposure, that season that, when mixed with your unique chemistry and temperament, grew into this beauty that you possess today.
If that was the end of the story, this would be a short talk. But it’s not the end of the story, when we talk about our family. Cause here’s what else is true. Everyone in this room also possesses a less-than-lovely characteristic. A less-than-productive pattern of behavior that actually can cause disadvantage relationally for you.
So it could be as simple as you’re defensive, you get angry, or you’re a people pleaser; you can’t find your voice. There’s some that are more destructive. Some of us cope with our ache in destructive ways, whether that’s alcohol or drugs or pornography or
Facebook or work. But whatever it is for you, you, like me, possess a characteristic or a trait or a pattern of relating that is a disadvantage. And, again, if we were to take and listen to your story, we would find clues, the missing pieces, to help us understand how is it that we’ve come to this place.
And this is why this is so important. Because our experience is not just from the medical stuff and the psychological stuff that I’ve done, but, honestly, from my own experience of being somebody who, unfortunately, has screwed up some relationships that the key to our success, the key to figuring out how to get free from these patterns and behave in a prevailing way with more success in our relationships require for us to go back and understand some of the ways, some of the contributions, to where we are today.
If I were to say it differently, it’d be this: We can’t get to where we wanna go until we’re clear where we’ve been. And that’s why we do this work. The only way to tell where we’ve been, though, is to tell our story. And when I invite people to do story work, there’s usually two forms of resistance. The first one is something like this: “Look. I don’t wanna be one of those whiners that blames their mother for all of their problems. My parents were good people. They did they best they can.” If you’re in that category, you’re in good company, because I couldn’t agree more. Okay? So what you’re gonna see, and you’ll hear soon: this is not about passing responsibility. In fact, it’s about taking responsibility. It’s not about blame. It’s about understanding and insight.
The second common resistance to talking about our story sounds more like this: “Look. The past is dead. It’s gone. No reason to cry over spilled milk. I just wanna look forward. I just wanna get moving forward.” If this is a sense of resistance that you have, I get that, cause that’s how I avoided this topic till I was about forty years old. And here’s what I would just ask—in fact, I would beg. If this is your resistance, I’d like for you to engage this content anyway, because it’s usually those of us with that piece of resistance that have the most to gain from talking about story.
So when we look at relationships in the Bible, there’s lots and lots of Scripture talking about how we should be productive and we should serve and we should love everyone, always. I’m just gonna touch on Romans 12 because it’s one of my most returned-to Scriptures for me. And there’s one segment in there that, actually, the caption, the subtitle, is “Love in Action.” Which, in my mind, is what relationships are. And, mercifully, I’m not gonna read all of this to you, but I’m gonna highlight some of those phrases that you’ve heard before if you’ve been in the church very long.
“Live in harmony with one another.”
There’s the invitation to “bless those who persecute.”
“Bless and do not curse.”
“Be devoted to one another in love.”
Now, this all culminates in verse 18, which is: “As much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” And this is actually probably the Scripture that most guides and convicts me in my life. But when you look at all of that Scripture—“Live in harmony,” “Live in peace,” “Bless, do not curse”—there’s some relationships where that’s easy. In fact, if you think about your romantic relationships, that early era of romance, this is really easy.
Then you get married. And then... you learn why wars start. You understand that this is hard. And, suddenly, what was easy before becomes hard. And we wanna talk about how we behave when this gets hard. Because this part of Romans, several chapters back, is probably the most preached on segment of Scripture that I know. Cause it’s exactly what happens to us when relationships get hard: “I do not understand what I do. What I want to do, I do not do. And what I hate, I do.”
This is us when relationships get hard. And so what we wanna do is work ahead of time before it gets hard to anticipate and predict where we’re prone to make things worse.
So I’m married. My wife is here. In fact, she’s gonna come up. This is my wife, September. There she is. And we were married... thirty-three years ago. And if you look at the before and after, you can see, in this picture, we’re obviously a lot younger, and obviously terrified.
S e p t e m b e r : Petrified.
S c o t t : For good reason, as you’ll hear. Tell us a little bit about you.
S e p t e m b e r : Well, I have been married also thirty-three years. And this is our family here. We have five grown children. I won’t bore you with names and ages, but they’re roughly between the ages of twenty-three and thirty-two. And we have, actually now, three grandkids. Our oldest granddaughter will be five in September. And we have a little one-year-old as well. So we’re in the thick of it. They’re fantastic kids. We love our family. We’ve seen a lot of miles together. In our relationship, I’m the one that usually is the correct and right one. And then this is my husband, Scott.
S c o t t : Thank you.
S e p t e m b e r : Is that good?
S c o t t : You did good.
S e p t e m b e r : Okay.
S c o t t : Now, sit down.
S e p t e m b e r : Okay. You may prove me wrong later, but...
S c o t t : Sadly, she’s correct.
(S e p t e m b e r : No, it’s not true.)
S c o t t : We’ve also added a son-in-law since this picture was taken.
S e p t e m b e r : Oh, that’s right, yeah.
S c o t t : So what do we talk about when we say, “Story”? When I say we should examine our story, what do I mean by story? So to give you a definition, I’m going to introduce you to two academics who are known as experts on this topic even though they come from wildly different disciplines.
So this first guy has written a number of books on story. He’s a sociologist. But, I’m gonna read you a quote from this particular book, which is actually harder to find, but he says this kind of thing a lot. But he says, “You and I,” so, “You are your stories.” So our story’s not a listing of what took place. We are our stories. Your story shapes how you see yourself, how you see the world, and how you see your place in it. This is very important. And both these academics are strong Christians. And so the relationship with God is implied in the world. Almost all of his books have a very strong spiritual emphasis. But your story shapes how you see yourself, how you see the world, and you see your place in it.
But he goes on, cause he recognizes that some of our stories have hard parts. “If your present life story is broken or diseased, it can be made well. Or, if necessary, it can be replaced with a story that has a plot worth living.” So hold that thought. We’ll go to the next academic. Dr. Allender is a theologian and a psychologist who’s had a significant impact on me. Lot of my training in recent years has been with Dan. But he says something you might find familiar: “We don’t just have stories. We are a story.” And he also recognizes: “I can’t change my tragedies, nor can I really eliminate, not fully eliminate, the characters in my story, but I can write a new plot.”
And here’s the important piece he adds: “To know our plot is the first step to changing it.” Or said another way: We can’t get to where we wanna go until we’re clear on where we’ve been. And both of these academics, and I think there’s good research to demonstrate this as well, your story significantly influences you, but it doesn’t determine you. We can actually heal broken stories and change the course that was started back when we were young, which is why we’re having this conversation.
How do you tell your story? Well, the key to telling our story is to actually go back all the way to the beginning and tell the whole thing. The good parts and the not-so-good parts. Cause all of us, of course, were born. And all of us are moving towards a preferred future. And we could say, “I want this job or this relationship” or whatever. But, really, if I were to ask you, “Well, if you had that, what would be so good about it?” You would start using words like this: Belonging and purpose and value and dignity. And then I would add, as Christ followers, abundant life.
But as we’re moving towards this target, some of our motions, right on target, right on course. Some of the times, we get off course. But good or bad, right or wrong, wherever we are on this journey, we are here. So today you are here. And that span of time between birth and today is your story. And the coordinates of where we are today are important because we want to plot a course from where we are today to do the rest of our lives better. And that’s why we’re here, that’s why we come to church, that’s why we do this stuff—we want to do the rest of our lives better.
And almost always, doing the rest of our lives better means doing relationships better.
So, I’m glad you’re here.
So to kind of help understand this analogy a little bit, I’m gonna give you this word picture. Imagine that you come up after we’re done here, and you say, “Hey, that was lovely. Can you come over for dinner to my house, we’ll talk some more about it?”
I say, “Okay.”
So you give me your directions and your address and your phone number and a time to show up. And I start driving. But here’s something that’s true of me. I’ve got something wrong with my head that when I start driving, I get lost. I get distracted. I’m kind of obsessed with these audiobooks that I’m listening to on history. And unless it’s like a half-a-mile drive, I will get lost. And not just a little lost—I get really lost. I was an early adopter with GPS. It doesn’t help me.
So there’s been two times since I have moved here where I’m driving home on I-90, and then I’m oh so startled when I see this [Welcome to Wisconsin]. True story. One time, I was driving a motor home. So I’m heading to your house, I get lost. I’ve lost my way. I have a starting point, you’re my preferred destination, and somewhere on my journey, I’ve gotten off course.
So I call you on the phone. I want some guidance. “Hi, I’m sorry. It’s Scott. I’m late. I’m lost. Can you help me?” What’s the phrase that you say?
Of course: “Where are you?” It would be not very kind or helpful for you to say, “Turn around! Turn left!” You can’t really help me until you’re clear about my destination, or my origins. The problem is sometimes you’ll ask me, “Where are you?”
And then I’ll likely say...
(S e p t e m b e r : I don’t know.)
S c o t t : Or, worse, I’ll tell you where I think I am. Okay? When we get lost in our life, we have a sense of where we are. And, sometimes, it’s not accurate. You know, if September would’ve called me about twenty seconds before I crossed the state line into Wisconsin and said, “Where are you?”
I would say, “I’m on I-90. I’m almost home.” Cause I didn’t even know where I was. So you ask me where I’m at.
I say, [“I don’t know.”]
So then you say, “Well, what are you experiencing? Look around. What do you see?”
And so I tell you, “Well, there’s a Starbucks. There’s a Target. A gas station.” So I’ve just described every other corner in the galaxy. So that doesn’t help you. So now what do you do?
It would be useful if, somehow, I could retrace my steps. We saw this a lot when our kids were growing up. We raised five kids, all managed to drive without significant harm to themselves or others. There was significant harms to our car, but... all of them, and if you’ve raised kids who got to the driving phase, you know this life. They’re out driving, they get lost, they get scared, they call home.
So this is how the call goes. Ring. I pick it up: “Hello?”
And the kid goes, “Hi, Dad. Is mom home?” I pass it to September. She listens. Trying to calm them down.
And then she says, “Where are you?” And then she says, “Well, what do you see? Give me some landmarks.” And, finally, she’ll say something like, “Okay. Retrace your steps.” And the kid will walk through, and... “Oh. Did you say you turned left on Brown Street? I wonder if that’s where we got off track.”
It’s hearing the journey, the process, the story that helps the kid declare, “Here’s where I’m at.” And then, from this place, they can plot a new course. This is what we do in our relationships. This is what we do in our story. And this is why this work is so important. Because you can’t get to where you wanna go until you’re clear on where you’ve been.
So I wanna talk about the anatomy, or the building blocks, of story. Because here’s been our experience. All of us have inputs into our life. These are the events, the mentors, the exposures, the holidays, the great coach, the bad coach, the victories, the abuse, everything, good or bad, that has happened to us, that has been significantly formative in our lives. And these inputs significantly influence our beliefs or our messages, okay? So it’s these beliefs and messages, both the good ones that help us be proactive, and the ones that are distortions of how we see ourselves, the world, and our place in it. These messages and beliefs contribute to our consequences—the ways we relate today.
So how we understand our story is to sort of fill in this grid. And if you’re interested in doing this work, we’ve created a handout for you guys, which I’ll give you how to get access to it later, but you’ll have all the stuff downloadable here later—I’ll tell you how to do that in a minute.
So, if we’re gonna fill this out, we say, first, there’s positive input. So what are the things that are positive inputs? And you can read, you know how to read, there’s up here now, but “I got a stable environment,” “I had good genetics,” “I was smart,” or “I was athletic.” It could be “I had great role models or mentors.” It could be “I got age-appropriate parenting,” so I got to be a child when I was a child and an adult when I got older. Good circumstances, you know? “I was healthy; we didn’t have any trauma or issues.” You’ll know specifically with you because, very often, it’s not this vague. It’s: “Coach Johnson gave me a chance.” “Aunt so and so bought me a harmonica.” I mean, there are certain things that just really change the trajectory of your life in a positive way.
And those positive inputs result in these beliefs or messages—how you see yourself and the world and your place in it. I’m worthy. There’s a God, and God is good. You can probably count on being safe in this world. There’s all kinds of positive messages that you’re not even aware of actually filter all of your decisions and how you engage people. You have your own, and they’re unique to you.
And, of course, they result in some of the positive consequences we’ve talked about at the very beginning. You might be charitable, you might be generous, you might be discerning, you might be courageous. Resilient when life gets hard. Whatever it is about you that’s lovely and beautiful, we can trace that to some of these beliefs—how you see yourself and the world—and the inputs into that. That’s the good news.
But we know where we’re going, because a lot of the trouble we get into with relationships is when our view of the world and ourselves is distorted. And that comes from negative inputs. And negative messages. So you can probably predict these also. In your life, no matter how good your life might be, we all have some negative inputs. And things like any abuse, any trauma, any rigid black-and-white thinking structure—so, racism or, you know, radical kind of fundamentalism. Just bad luck. “Our house burned down.” “There was a flood.” “Tough genes, DNA.” You know, if any of you were the short kid or the tall kid or the thin kid or the heavy kid or the kid with the kinky hair—whatever it is that kids pick on each other for, those are negative inputs that contribute to these negative messages.
And we’re gonna talk a lot about the negative messages. Cause this right here is where the game is won and lost in terms of the work we do to try and have narrative repair or to craft a new plot. To walk with God in healing of the broken parts of our story. Because the negative inputs tell us something that we tell ourselves for the rest of our lives about life. And it could be “I am bad” or “I deserve this” or “I’m not, I’ll never make it.” It could be “The world isn’t safe.” It could be a lot of different ways. And, again, I put some up here, and I’m gonna put some more examples up here. But I would spend some time, if you do this work, on really getting at what is my message of negative inputs? It’s something we refer to as the “Message of the Wound.”
My friend Andy talks about that. We’ll come to that in a second. But these negative messages, these distorted beliefs, have negative consequences—how you relate to people. It could be that you don’t bond well. You stay isolated. It could be that you are angry or you’re defensive or you have such fear of making a mistake, you’re a perfectionist.
It could be, again, the coping mechanisms. You know, a crowd this size, there’s lots of people in this room who struggle with too much drugs or pornography or Facebook or some idolatrous relationship that is trying to save an ache that hurts relationships. But whatever it is, your negative consequence, whatever it is, and you have one, it has, at its root, these distorted beliefs. My friend Andy calls these the “Message of the Wound.” He’s a therapist. So we’re gonna spend a little bit of time here with Message of the Wound, cause this is where the game is won or lost. So I’ll give you some scenarios, and maybe you can try to predict with me some of the messages that may come.
So here’s a family. Of course, it’s not a real family. Actors. But imagine it’s a real family. And in this family, this man leads with an iron fist. Lots of anger. Lots of demands. Dad has the final word. What dad says goes. No one argues with dad. If you argue with dad, you will have hell to pay.
So what do you think are some of the messages that might come out of this in this little boy and this little girl? And here’s the thing, the messages are not gender specific. Either kid can have any of these. And it won’t be the same very often. My brother and I were raised in the same house. We had very similar negative inputs. We have very different Messages of the Wound. We have very different ways we see ourselves and the world. We’re almost opposite on how we’ve managed this. And, as a result, the way we are not successful in relationships is completely different. And how we’re successful in relationships is completely different.
So, in this case, it could something like this. “The man of the house is the only one allowed to express anger.” That might be the message they take into adulthood. Or it could be “My needs and my thoughts aren’t important.” Or it could be “Anger and intimidation is how you influence people. When you’re upset, that’s what you do.” Or it could be “It’s best just to keep quiet.”
How about this family? Happy family. Everything seems fine. But what you don’t see is her rage and anger and control in their house. And you don’t see his ability, when she gets mad, he just gets small and retreats to his den and sits on his computer. And no one talks about it. In fact, they’re forbidden to talk about it. Because she’s a public figure, and he’s the pastor of their little church.
So what does this boy or girl grow up—what are some of the Messages of the Wound that might come? And there’s lots of options. It could be: “You hide all of your problems, and you put on a happy face. We don’t talk about it.” And they live their whole life that way. It could be: “I’m only valuable when I’m perfect. Because if I’m not perfect, I’ve gotta hide.” Or it could be “If I tell the truth, then I’ll be rejected.” Which follows up to: “What others don’t know won’t hurt them.” They may grow up to be deceptive.
Lots of anger, the kid is missed, the parents don’t see the kid, because of, they’re consumed with their finances and anger and such. This boy or girl might have, “If you want your way, you cry and scream.” “Conflict should be avoided at all costs.” “Intense feelings are dangerous.” “Anger is the only negative emotion.” And this is particularly an issue with boys my age because then, when we have sadness or fear, all we know is anger. And that, unfortunately, gets us the opposite of what we’re hoping for. Okay, one more.
This guy’s parents are both alcoholic. His dad is an angry man who takes out some of his anger and frustration of his vocational failures out on his kids. His mom is very emotionally distant. I mean, eye contact is difficult, let alone physical touch. And they have this peculiar way of managing conflict. So what this boy has seen growing up is, if a friend or a family member crosses his parents, they’re disowned, they’re cut off. So this boy’s mom disowned her two younger sisters when they were in the late teens, never to speak to again. So this kid has aunts and uncles and cousins somewhere in the world—has never met them.
So Messages of the Wound that this kid could grow up with: “If you disappoint others, you’ll be hurt, discarded, rejected, or betrayed.” “Intimacy is dangerous. It’s risky. Probably should be avoided.” “If you want to influence somebody, power and shame is a very effective tool.” “I am alone. I must fend for myself. No one’s gonna help me.”
Now, if you haven’t guessed, this is a fifty-something-year-old picture of me. And that was my story. And those are my Messages of the Wound. Which have figured prominently in how I’ve screwed up relationships. Because we have a distortion. We very often don’t know it’s distorted—it’s just normal for us. So if I were to fill out this grid, and if you want to fill out a grid, you can go to, here’s, September and I made a little handout, a little devotional—not devotional, but, just some more work to do on this, a grid to fill out and such. You can just go to a website, which is my name dot com [scottvaudrey.com]. And you can download it if you want.
S e p t e m b e r : There’s reflections for individuals as well as for couples, so it’d be a good discussion thing.
S c o t t : There’s the brains of the outfit again. Thank you. But, anyway, so if I were to fill this out, on the positive side, that’s pretty simple. You heard when I talked about it. I was raised in rural environments. My dad did a fantastic job of teaching me stuff, whether it’s how to take care of animals, how to build stuff, how to fix cars—I mean, he just taught me so much stuff. And then my mom kept books in front of me as a kid. And so I read a lot. The messages, the positive messages, is: “If you work hard, you can make it.” And: “I bet I can figure this out.” I thought this is what everyone thinks, but I’ve learned it’s more unique to me and my unique story.
So the consequences on the positive—you know, what’s lovely about me, is I have a strong work ethic, I’m a hard worker, I love to learn, and I’m resourceful—I like solving problems. Which is a lot of what I do at Willow Creek.
Now, on the negative side, you’ve already heard the negative inputs, and you’ve heard the Messages of the Wound. These distorted beliefs of how I see myself, the world, and my place in it led to some consequences, some behavioral disadvantages for me. What’s not so lovely about me, among other things, is I’m emotionally distant. I’m hard to connect with. I keep a distance between everyone—even people who shouldn’t be distant. I’m controlling. And I’m relationally paranoid. And those last two really come out of fear of being rejected. But what the people around me see is indifference at best and anger at worst. It’s what I learned. It’s how I learned to solve this problem of relational tension.
So you can imagine that whoever the lucky woman who marries this prize has got a little problem coming, right?
So I wanna do one little caveat, and September’s gonna share with you and fill out her grid, because, really, what matters with the grid isn’t just what you see by yourself but what happens when you mesh grids with people that you’re close to.
But I want to recognize something. These inputs—these things that happened to you as a kid—these aren’t your fault. And here’s the bind: it’s, little kids, when stuff happens to them, they want to figure it out. They had to make sense, with their little minds, why this is happening. Unfortunately, the story they’ll tell themselves is they caused it or they deserved it. And you may not have memory of feeling that way, but that’s been, that’s sort of the norm for kids that age.
So what happens is they carry a shame that there’s something wrong with them here. And they feel like this was their fault. So for whatever happened in here to you, I just wanna say very clearly, what happened to you when you were a kid was not your fault. No kid deserves to be harmed or abused emotionally, physically, relationally, period. Even kids who misbehave. No kid causes a divorce. No kid causes siblings or parents to run away. What happened to you is not your fault.
The problem is when we have some shame here, we’re so troubled by that, that we actually have resistance to owning this. We behave as if this really is not my responsibility—it’s somebody else’s responsibility. We’re likely to minimize it or blame other people for it. “All the men in our family drink.” “Well if you just wouldn’t, I wouldn’t.”
So here’s a very important piece. Even though what happened to you wasn’t your fault, the consequences are a 100 percent your responsibility. So to kind of help sink that, I want to use another analogy. I want you to imagine, for a minute, I’m standing up here. Yammering on about family. And a kind of crazy person runs down the hallway, up the stairs, and hits my arm with a baseball bat, and breaks my arm. And then runs away and laughs.
I’ve got a broken arm. Wasn’t my fault. I don’t know this guy. Was not my fault, this trauma. So what do I do? I go to the doctor. They x-ray. It’s broken. What do they do?
S e p t e m b e r : Cast it.
S c o t t : Yeah. They put a cast on it. They put a cast on it to protect it from further injury while it’s prone or sensitive to further harm. But then, the cast will come off, right? The cast stays on kind of an amount of time directly proportional to how severe the injury is. So, eventually, the best thing for me and my arm is the cast comes off. But it doesn’t end there. What happens after the cast comes off? Yeah. Physical Therapy and rehab. Anybody had rehab? Physical Therapy? How many of you liked it? It’s horrible. It’s expensive. It’s boring. Time consuming. It’s painful. It’s just not a good thing.
So I might say, “Well, listen. This wasn’t my fault. So why should I have to pay? I’m just gonna leave the cast on. I’m not gonna deal with it. I’m not gonna do the work to rehab this trauma.” Who suffers? Just me. Well, me and my family. My kids, and my kids’ kids, honestly. Because what happens is that my arm starts to wither out of atrophy and neuropathy and pain and contractors, and soon I’ll have a non-functional arm that’ll be a liability. Because rehabbing my arm is a 100 percent my responsibility. Even if the guy who hit me feels really bad and wants to make amends and help, he can’t rehab my arm. Even though this wasn’t my fault, I’m the only person who can help solve, fix, heal, this problem once it’s mine. And that’s the bind we have with our negative consequences that are impacting relationships. Only we can solve them.
So I’ve talked for a long time. And there’s a much better speaker on the stage. My best friend.
S e p t e m b e r : Thank you, Scott.
So I’ll just give you a little bit of my story, and then Scott will share how those stories collided, and it’s not, doesn’t take rocket science to figure out how we’ve got a dance coming that was not a fun dance. So I, like Scott, grew up on a farm. And I loved growing up on a farm. I lived out in the country. We had 150-acre old dairy barn. And, you know, dairy farm, and we had horses and chickens and cows—the whole thing. I grew up on horseback, basically, and I loved it. And it was a beautiful part of my childhood.
My mother was very nurturing. She had a great sense of humor. She was a stay-at-home mom, so she was readily accessible. I had one younger brother. And we didn’t have very many nearby neighbors, but we had each other, and my dad was one of those jack of all trades who pretty much knows how to do something—he just knows how to do things, he knows how to do everything. He knows a little bit about so many things. And he’s a very curious person. He’s very intelligent. And I just watched him soak up information and learn things. And he passed that on to me. I was able to pick up, kind of, on some of that stuff. And he would share with me and take me on little adventures. It was a great, beautiful part of my childhood—these inputs I had growing up.
What I took out of that, the messages over here, was that my mother, in addition to being very nurturing, she was a painter, she’s a writer, she’s highly creative. And I soaked all that up as well. And that was one of the messages that I got—was that creativity is a way to bring life into you, particularly if you’re a stay-at-home parent, which I became when we got married.
I also learned that, the message that I took away was that the world is a treasure to discover. Like, there are things out there that are fun to learn, and learning itself is a joy. I got that from my dad. It was a beautiful message that he passed on to me. And I also learned, actually from both of my parents, that people matter. My mother would nurture anybody who came in the door. There was always a pot of coffee on the stove. My dad is an introvert, he wasn’t highly, like, out there like my mother was, but he would help financially. It was not uncommon for my parents to bring a bag of groceries and leave them anonymously on someone’s doorstep when they knew money was tight. So I learned from my parents that people matter.
As a consequence, I grew up myself to be quite nurturing. I think that, whether it’s my kids or my friends or my teammates at work, the wild raccoon that I recently found, it doesn’t matter, nurturing is all, you know, that’s, that’s awesome. Creativity. I’m a writer myself. I’m an artist. I’m kind of a craftsman. I love to learn how to do new artisan-type things. I’m a learner. There’s nothing to me that’s boring. Everything is kind of interesting. Let me learn something about that. And, so, as a result, I had a beautiful childhood in many, many ways. I learned some very important messages that really formed how I am.
I also, like each of you, had inputs in my life that were not beautiful and lovely—they were harmful. And one of the—my younger brother, two years younger than me, his name is Greg. And he was born with an intellectual disability and a physical handicap. And anybody here who has a child with special needs understands that there’s a lot, there’s a high involvement on the parent in order to make that situation thrive. And my brother became kind of the golden child that the sun rose and set on in my mother’s nurturing heart. And, perhaps to some degree, it became part of her identity.
So she would often jokingly say, “I’m just a martyr, you know. Oh, I’m just taking care of your brother.” Like, she would call herself a martyr, but, in fact, that was kind of, it became, kind of, maybe a, not a great part of her identity. There was a beautiful part, but there was maybe this other part that wasn’t so good.
And then my dad, he grew up in a divorced home. He never had a father in his memory growing up. And he would respond to some of this complexity of my mother and the unhealthy dance that she and my brother would do by avoiding. He would retreat. And he would just, you know, be fed up and avoid. And he’s a great big tall guy. He’s six-foot-seven. He’s literally a nationally ranked, high-power rifle marksman. You know, hunter, fisher, very strong guy—
S c o t t : So, just, just, feel my pain, as a twenty year old. Twenty years old. Six-foot-seven guy with lots of guns. And a good shot.
S e p t e m b e r : Meet my dad! Yeah, he trained snipers. But his wiring was such, he had never seen fatherhood modeled; he didn’t know what to do. And so he would retreat. And, as a result, I learned that if I wanted some kind of sunshine for me, it came when I would excel. And so I learned to be a very good student. I learned ways to excel that would give a little bit of value to me.
S c o t t : And your brother was aggressive.
S e p t e m b e r : Oh, yeah. I should mention that, too.
S c o t t : He scared you.
S e p t e m b e r : So my brother, two years younger, but, like my dad, tall and big, was, he was very, he was abusive to me. Not physically abusive, but he was verbally and emotionally and relationally quite abusive to me in my growing-up years, especially after he started elementary school. And, you know, like, the goal of my childhood was to get him to love me—I loved my little brother. I felt bad that he didn’t have things as easily as I did. But my parents were kind of in the swirl of trying to raise this child and didn’t have something to offer me that would have protected me from all of that. So yeah. Thanks for reminding me about that part.
So yeah, but it did, it left me with this message of, you know, “I am not worth protecting.” I mean, my parents didn’t say that. That’s just how my sensitive wiring interpreted it. It’s like, well, they see what he’s doing, and they’re not stopping it. Therefore, he’s more valuable than me. Or his comfort and his happiness is more important than mine. So that’s what I walked away from.
And then, eventually, because excelling was so important in order to get some value, I learned that I had to protect my perfectionistic ways at all costs. I had to protect my image. So any kind of flaw was just not acceptable cause it was linked to my value. It was linked to my lovability. So, again, you know, you can see the inputs that we had—as a, you know, some of the negative inputs I had as a child. And the messages that I took away from that. And the consequences as a result. I became very performance oriented. I mean, literally, in high school, I was involved in drama and all that. I was the editor of the school newspaper, the, you know, class president. Excel, excel, excel. You know, student of the year. All in an attempt to avoid the phrase that my mother had been saying since I was little, little, little. Which was this: “Thank goodness you don’t have any needs. Because it’s all I can do to take care of your brother.”
And he did have a lot of needs. And they were legitimate. And she met them in some very sacrificial and beautiful ways. And when you’re sixteen, you have needs. And when you’re nine, you have needs. And when you’re four, you have needs. My needs weren’t special needs. And so I walked away with this link between my performance and my value. That I took way too many years to figure out.
Then, if I did screw up, which, of course, you know, any kid does, any young adult does. When I make a mistake, I had to defend it. “Oh, I didn’t do that. It’s not a problem. It’s, you know, you’re overreacting.” And if being defensive didn’t work, then I would learn to be deceptive. To lie. And to hide my failures and my shortcomings.
S c o t t : So what we hope you will all be in a better place to do is to do this work, not this moment, but on your own, and get to the place to name your Message of the Wound. And then, from that context, not your fault, distorted, get more clear on the negative consequences. Cause here’s the reality. Particularly those of you that are married. If you’re married, you hurt your spouse relationally. I don’t care how good of a person you are or how awful they might be. You hurt them. And to get clear on how do I do that? What is going on here that would be really much better for the world and my life and my legacy if I solved it, if I got some freedom from that, and really would require us to go and find the distortion of how we see ourselves, how we see the world and our place in it.
So when September and I did that—you see the perfect storm. Here’s: “I have to be perfect, have no problems and no critique.” “I’m critical and make it almost impossible for you to succeed.” So you see the problem. And if I look back now, I wasn’t conscious of this then, in my twenties, my thirties, but I was terrified. But what she saw was anger and critique. My, all of my bells about being betrayed and being left behind, how I’ll keep that from happening is I’ll just control. So it wasn’t like I had this big, one horrible thing that I did. Instead, I just kind of did, it was, for September, it was marital death by ten thousand paper cuts. Just one after another after another after another after another.
So you can imagine the impact that had on her.
S e p t e m b e r : And for me, I had this pattern of, I have to perfect. If I’m not perfect, I’m going to be defensive. And if that doesn’t work, I’m gonna be deceptive. And as that pattern just became more and more solidified in my marriage to Scott, the things I needed to hide became worse. And my deception became truly destructive. And it caused harm to my kid—it, really, it affected every relationship that I have. It especially affected this guy right here, and it caused deep harm in our marriage, to the point where we actually separated for a while. I had to move out. Which was the right call. And I began going to therapy. And, big shock, the therapist wanted to explore my story—my origins. And it was really through that that I learned that my story, it wasn’t something to blame, the choices that I was making as an adult. But it was so freeing for me to be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together and understand why I would be prone to make relational failures a way of life for me.
And, eventually, we began to heal. I moved back home after about eight weeks—we were separated about eight weeks. And we spent the next number of years our family just healing and growing. And it was like—I use the expression—like scales falling from my eyes as I started to see the world as it actually was and not how this story that I had been living out all these years led me to believe.
A few years into this significant time of healing, we had a couple of, to use Andrew’s words earlier, a couple of sucker punches that I wouldn’t, that you would not wish upon yourself. Our eighth-grade son was diagnosed with a retinal disease that leads to blindness. There’s no treatment or cure. And he’s now twenty-five, and he’s living that out. He’s night blind. He’s got, he still has fairly good vision for what his disease is, but the end is not—that was a hit. That was a hit, to get that diagnosis as a parent.
And then, two years after that, our middle daughter, Katie, who actually was a friend of Pat, the youth pastor here, when she was a freshman in high school, I’m sorry, just finished her freshman year of college, she was driving to her first day of her summer job. And she had a brain aneurysm that ruptured. And she passed away.
And I don’t tell you that because—it’s not the focus of what we’re talking about here. But I’m here to tell you that the work we do in our story, it so matters, because when we went through those significant hits, we weathered them with God on our side, on a foundation that was solid. We were unified in—I wouldn’t—we wouldn’t trade it for anything. That’s not an option. The only option we have is to be good stewards of our stories from our littlest years until today and to learn to do life better as a result of the things that have come our way.
Today—our marriage didn’t just survive. It’s really thriving. I think we have the sweetest marriage of all the marriages I know.
S c o t t : So we wouldn’t have chosen any of those hits, but the reality is doing this work when we did saved our marriage, truly. And then, not only that, but allowed us to be strong and unified for our remaining four kids. After we lost one. So, as much as, again, she said, it was horrible, we thrived through that, because of this work. And that’s our invitation for you—it’s to thrive. To thrive in all of your relationships. And it really requires doing this work.
Because you can’t get to where you want to go until you’re clear on where you’ve been. So the challenge or the invitation is to get really clear on what are some of the next steps you could take to address your message and the relational consequences of which you’re responsible? So you could do it. You’re good people. And thanks for having us.